Emergency measures have been put in place to give pharmacists the ability to supply controlled drugs to patients without the need for a new prescription, if necessary, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday (29 April), the government amended legislation to give pharmacists in England, Scotland and Wales the power to supply controlled drugs in circumstances which ‘relate to continuity of treatment’ during the pandemic.

The new measures have been put in place to ‘ensure patients continue to have access to medicines critical for ongoing treatment’ including those needing palliative care and to help ‘relieve pressure elsewhere in the health system during the pandemic’.

Pharmacists will now be allowed to supply controlled drugs from Schedule 2, 3 and Part 1 Schedule 4 under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 to patients who have been receiving them as part of an on-going treatment plan.

Circumstances in which pharmacists are able to supply these drugs include the closure of GP practices or other services in an area because of Covid-19.

To maintain treatment and reduce harm to the patient, the new legislation also allows pharmacists without prescribing rights to change the intervals on instalment of medications with the agreement of the patient’s prescriber, where these are supplied under NHS arrangements.

The new measures would also allow for these controlled drugs to fall under a serious shortage protocol (SSP) - if one was actioned. This would enable pharmacists to provide alternative medications when prescribed items are unavailable or in short supply.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, can activate this legislation at any point in a specific location for a limited period of time.

RPS President Sandra Gidley welcomed the new legislation, saying that it will ‘bring relief to patients needing ongoing treatment for palliative care or substance misuse therapy.’

‘The flexibilities the legislation provides empowers pharmacists to provide the right care for patients during the pandemic.

‘We are continuing to talk to the Government and the NHS about how frontline pharmacists are playing a critical role supporting patients and vulnerable groups during Covid-19.

‘Now the legislation has been published, we will shortly provide professional guidance for pharmacists who may need to supply controlled drugs under the new measures.’